Killer Mike, Madeleine Albright and Millennial Voters: A Perfect Storm of Gender Politics

shutterstock_287370743With the presidential election now in full swing, the Ms. Blog is excited to bring you a series presented in conjunction with Presidential Gender Watch 2016, a project of the Barbara Lee Family Foundation and the Center for American Women and Politics. They’ll be tracking, analyzing and illuminating gender dynamics during election season—so check back with us regularly!

Presidential Gender Watch is a project borne from a desire to ensure that the role gender plays in our elections is not overlooked. We look at the subtle (and not so subtle) ways gender influences candidate strategy, voter engagement and expectations, media coverage and electoral outcomes in the race for the nation’s highest executive office.

Lately, there’s been no need to read between the lines. First, feminist icon Gloria Steinem made headlines by saying that young women support Bernie Sanders because “the boys are with Bernie.” When Madeleine Albright used her signature “there’s a special place in hell” line at a Hillary Clinton rally the same weekend, the media coverage snowballed into a non-stop dissection of the generational divide between millennial feminists and their second-wave elders. Just recently, Sanders surrogate Killer Mike was dubbed “sexist” after quoting activist Jane Elliott’s line, “A uterus doesn’t qualify you to be president of the United States.”

Over the past two weeks, we’ve been barraged by an onslaught of pundits analyzing and reanalyzing these events and the role of gender in election 2016. We’ve taken a breath. We’ve let the media coverage sink in. We’ve read the analyses of almost every political writer in the country. And we’ve realized something important: we are getting an incomplete picture of the political landscape.

Recently, the conversation has focused on different forms of the same question: Should women vote for Hillary Clinton simply because she is a woman? While these conversations certainly add value to the discussion about the role gender plays in American politics, the underlying premise of the question is flawed. Few people, including Clinton, have ever advocated voting for candidates along gender lines. Instead, those citing the importance of electing a woman president nearly universally note gender as one among many credentials for officeholding. Clinton herself told an audience in July, “I’m not asking people to vote for me simply because I’m a woman. I’m asking people to vote for me on the merits,” adding, “I think one of the merits is I am a woman. And I can bring those views and perspectives to the White House.”

Arguing that gender is one of the merits on which candidates may be evaluated does not promote identity over merit; instead, it presumes there is merit in identity. Research on gender and representation backs up that presumption. The identities with which we navigate and experience the world shape our perceptions, priorities and perspectives. Clinton’s identity as a woman is just as worthy of evaluation and consideration as Sanders’ identity as a man or Trump’s identity as a CEO. Most importantly, no candidate brings any singular identity with them to candidacy or officeholding; the class, race/ethnicity, sexuality, age and ability of each candidate—among other identities—all contribute to the distinct ways in which they experience, view and interact with the world.

Likewise, and of equal importance to recent conversations, women are not a monolithic voting bloc. Race, class, sexual orientation and ability—in addition to age—all impact women voters’ motivations and preferences. And we can’t forget about political party preference, especially because partisanship usually trumps gender. So many of the discussions around women voters in recent weeks have been blind to these intersectional identities, analyzing differences among women voters along one axis—generation—and within the Democratic Party only.

With this in mind, and primary voting already underway, Presidential Gender Watch is asking our political experts to take on the daunting task of unpacking the current state of women voters in the 2016 election. On Tuesday, we’ll be hosting a conference call to explain women voters’ influence to date and provide an outlook for the role that women voters will play in the remaining primaries and general election.

In a 24-hour news cycle, where simple messages are often the ones that break through, this call provides us with the opportunity to reflect on the complexity of women voters, and learn about the distinct motivations influenced by different ideologies, ethnicities and generational groups. When it comes to understanding the full impact of women voters in this election—it’s complicated. Join us tomorrow, Feb. 23, to learn more.

Photo via Shutterstock

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Kelly Dittmar is an assistant professor of political science at Rutgers University and a scholar at the Center for American Women in Politics. Find her on Twitter @kdittmar

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Adrienne Kimmell is executive director of the Barbara Lee Family Foundation.


  1. “Clinton’s identity as a woman is just as worthy of evaluation and consideration as Sanders’ identity as a man or Trump’s identity as a CEO.”
    CEO is not an identity.

  2. Hillary’s identity as a woman is supremely more important than Bernie’s identity as a man because… a woman has never been president.

    Ms is all for promoting women-owned businesses, women artists, but why are you backing down from a call to support women candidates?

    Is it because Steinem said something stupid? Is it because Bernie is so trendy? I’m having an incredibly difficult time understanding why you treat a woman in politics so differently.

  3. suzanne123 says:

    I no longer support Bernie Sanders, as a result of the sexism in his campaign. Firstly, why would a sexist rapper who happens to be African-American be considered representative of the Black community? And it is offensive to women that Killer Mike be chosen as a surrogate. Secondly, the “uterus” remarks were condoned by Bernie Sanders last week. Thirdly, Bernie Sanders has failed to counterbalance the fact that people (both men and women) might prefer to vote for a woman by pointing out the many benefits of his policies. Instead, Sanders has said gender is not a valid reason to vote for a candidate. If gender or race is not a valid reason to vote for a candidate (and I think it is), then how can we support affirmative action?

    I see nothing wrong with the comments by Gloria Steinem or Madeleine Albright. It’s true that women (and men) should be encouraged to support other women, and that there is still work to be done! The Sanders campaign needs to counterbalance this by advising that the anti-war policies are better for women; the social assistance and welfare reforms will help women out of poverty; the drug treatment programs will help women out of prostitution (the latter is already being conducted in New York State), and so on. Instead, Sanders ridiculously says he doesn’t ask people to vote for him because he is man (what does this have to do with affirmative action and supporting a candidate because she is a woman?) and implying that being an honorary woman and male feminist makes him understand the female experience.

    The Sanders campaign is filled with sexism, although it was not officially condoned by Sanders himself until last week. The campaign has literally defined Hillary as a “vagina,” “tw*t,” and “c*nt” whose sole credential is being married to a former president. While there is nothing wrong with pointing out Hillary’s cooperation in covering up Bill Clinton’s abuse of women (something Donald Trump has done, and I think it is valid), or asking if Ms Clinton still supports her husband’s welfare reforms and such (after all, this question was raised by Al Gore when he ran for president), there is something wrong with calling her the offensive names. It would be the equivalent of calling Ben Carson or Carly Fiorina or Sarah Palin racist or sexist names. I also don’t understand Sanders supporters saying that will only vote for a woman if she is progressive. Does this mean if Clinton gets the nomination that they will vote for the female Green candidate and split the vote? Fortunately, Sanders has stated his supporters must support Clinton is she gets the nomination.

    The Sanders campaign is part of our porn culture and social media defining women who vote for Hillary as “vagina voters” (what is wrong with affirmative action?) and the candidate herself as “uterus” and “tw*t” and “c*nt.” This has now been condoned by the candidate himself. On the plus side, the Sanders momentum has shifted Hillary to the left (and Joe Biden is also calling for income equality and socialist reforms!), so maybe it isn’t all bad. Maybe Sanders has difficulty addressing feminist issues because the women’s movement is so divided, but why would he want surrogate Susan Sarandon posing suggestively and provocatively and saying she doesn’t vote with her vagina? This clearly defines women who vote for Hillary as “vagina voters” and condemns affirmative action. Sanders needs to remember Jeb Bush’s advice: It’s not strong to insult women.

    • Are you serious? You must be of an older generation. Get over your bourgeoisie feminism. Everybody 35 and under doesn’t want to hear it.

  4. says:

    If it wasn’t for bourgeoisie feminism (which you have spelled incorrectly), you wouldn’t be voting, driving, wearing pants or speaking your mind. Domestic violence would be illegal and no one would take action against trafficking or sexual assault. You have a lot to learn about the women’s movement. Being young is not an excuse for being ignorant.

  5. says:

    domestic violence would still be legal, I meant.

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